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It seems there's nothing deadlier than the mail.

The Avengers
6.10: You’ll Catch Your Death

Jeremy Burnham’s first teleplay, originally titled Atishoo, Atishoo, All Fall Down, which might have given the impression that it’s zanier than it is (equally, it might have been used to more sinister effect, as nursery rhymes often are). There’s plenty of eccentricity in the supporting cast, though, which lifts this one considerably above the past couple of episodes.


Not least of the eccentrics is found in the arrival proper of Patrick Newell’s Mother, having previously been seen in the cobbled-together The Forget-Me-Knot. His location is suitably offbeat, filmed in one of Elstree’s concrete-lined water tanks, with ladders about the place as if to evoke some sort of art installation. He variously drinks (“Scotch?”), looks at Rhonda (Parker) through a telescope and answers telephones, warning Steed “Not that one unless you happen to speak fluent Swahili”. It does seem a bit of a stretch that they’re discussing a worldwide epidemic when only three ear, nose and throat specialists have died (there’d be patient victims too, surely), so it’s quite correct that he considers it “A disease that chooses its victims too carefully for my likening” and his wager that it’s not in any medical dictionary because “My nose is twitching” is accordingly quite reasonable.


Steed: Is this, by any chance, one of yours?
Maidwell: I’m afraid to say it is, sir. It is our Cream Wove brand.
Steed: Well, Cream Wove or not, a firm of your reputation... Tut-tut.
Maidwell: I am well aware of that, sir. I was saying to Mr Pew only the other day that we ought to discontinue it.
Steed: And Mr Pew disapproved?
Maidwell: It’s our big money maker, you see sir. Low cost so makes bulk-buying an attractive proposition.
Steed: Oh, it’s fairly common?
Maidwell: In every sense of the word, sir.

Indeed, Burnham seems to known, either intuitively or through studying the previous couple of seasons – probably the latter, since he'd already acted in three episodes, the first time in Season Four) that a progression of eccentric scenes (with Steed) is the ideal means to structure an episode, regardless of the actual plot. So our gentleman protagonist visits stationer Maidwell (Henry McGee), leading to a typically Avengers conversation pertaining to class, or the lack thereof, which leads him To the Anastasia Nursing Academy…


Steed: If one’s born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth, one must see that it feeds as many people as possible.

Less eccentric conversation-wise is the Academy’s Matron (Sylvia Kay, of Aussie alchy drama Wake in Fright and… Just Good Friends). Well aside from Steed’s first sight of her, apparently half x-rayed (“Oh, Matron, good of you to see… Good to see you”). He introduces himself as forming a foundation “dedicated to the service of the sick”. Kay makes a formidable villain, if not the chief one, although one wonders why she and actual ringleader Glover (Fulton Mackay, 5.18: Return of the Cybernauts) should entrust their poisoning campaign to a couple of de rigueur tactless brutes (Dudley Lovejoy Sutton’s Dexter and Bette Bourne’s Preece, also of 4.25: A Sense of History, recalling, to a lesser degree, the psychotic thuggery in 5.3: The Bird Who Knew Too Much).


Steed: Comfortable?
Fawcett: No. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Steed: I frequently am.
Fawcett: Using curtains like those.
Steed: Oh, I rather like them.
Fawcett: Highly dangerous. 22.3% of all hay fever sufferers are allergic to velvet.
Steed is then visited by Dr Fawcett (Charles Lloyd Pack, 4.13: Silent Dust) of the Institute of Allergic Disease, who admonishes him for the state of his curtains. Steed comes across as pretty slack here, not even aware of Seaton’s death, and one can’t help thinking that if he hadn’t palmed the bodyguard bit off on Tara, taking the cushy interviewing of eccentrics himself, there’d have been less corpses. 


Colonel Timothy: Ever thought of going to Malaya?
Steed: Well, I…
Colonel Timothy: Don’t, dreadful place.

Contender for the acting chemistry award is Steed arriving to see Colonel Timothy (Ronald Culver), based on a clue found at the Academy. Culver’s superb as an – yes! – eccentric type who has been “infection prone since his return from Malaya” and has dedicated himself to finding a cure for the common cold (“The biggest mistake they made was to invade me”). Mother’s right to suggest Timothy isn’t the villain, but the source of the virus is nevertheless his research facility (an entrance to which is hidden behind a wall in his house). When he and Steed go to find Tara (“And what are we looking for?”: “A tall, attractive brunette”: “Who isn’t?”) they form an effective double act in overcoming the enemy, hitting them with their hats (“El Alamein all over again”) and proving adept at diversionary tactics. Nevertheless, it’s Valentine Dyall (the Black Guardian, City at the Edge of the World) whom Macnee bounces off most brightly.


Butler: Curiosity, sir, was responsible for the demise of the cat.
Steed: Heh. Not to worry. I have eight lives left.
Butler: My advice, sir, would be not to throw them away too easily.

Going by the previous episode, this unnamed butler ought to be the mastermind, particularly with “The Man in Black” playing him, but no. He’s just the butler. Asked to roll up his sleeve, Steed responds “What, fisticuffs?” and receives the response “No, antibiotic injection. Colonel’s orders. No visits permitted without one”. It is perhaps a little surprising, given the institute behind the wall, that there isn’t a complementary white coat or mask, though.


Steed: You know, that could be the nucleus for a nice nasty organisation.

The deadly letters in the post contain anthraxhighly concentrated cold virus (“Common cold virus powder manufactured to a fantastic enough strength to kill an elephant”), Glover’s rather attention-drawing plan being to “kill those in anti-allergy research who might present a threat” (who could produce an antidote). His reasoning? Rather prosaically, he just wants to be a very rich man. The Academy meanwhile, is revealed as an anti-nursing body (their induction strategy being to reject all honest candidates and take all dishonest ones), something of a throwaway element, as beyond the Matron nothing is really made of it.


Preece: We call it Oblivion – I think you’ll fall for it.

As mentioned, Tara singularly fails to protect surviving ear, nose and throat specialists on the list, although Seaton (Geoffrey Chater, 5.21: You have Just Been Murdered) proceeds to open a newly arrived letter immediately after she’s inspected his mail. She also succumbs to the aggressive attentions of Dexter and Preece, but puts up a good effort resisting them. Taken for questioning, and deep freezing, and testing, we learn she’s allergic to ragweed (“A rather plebeian allergy, Miss King”), but not caviar, oysters, champagne or quail, which is fortunate, hanging out with Steed. If her fighting skills earlier are formidable, it’s disappointing that Thorson overacts abominably when she receives a slapped face for biting Matron.


The climax is most notable for centring on the research facility’s prodigious nose-on-the-wall prop, down a nostril of which Steed rather ruthlessly empties one of the deadly envelopes on the fleeing Glover, before emerging, upside down, with a gleeful “Gesundheit”.


Tara: You’ll just have to face it, Steed. You’re completely compromised.

The coda is a disappointing return to the territory of innuendo-laden sugar daddy, as Steed succumbs to Tara’s cold while attempting to administer her Auntie Ermintrude’s patent cold remedy (“People might talk. And draw conclusions”). Which is a shame, as You’ll Catch Your Death is one of the few episodes in the season to this point that captures something of the Rigg era’s flair.









Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

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